SAYED: MAKING SPACE
Sayed came to the US in 1999 from Nubia, a region surrounding the Nile River in Northern Sudan. He grew up in an agricultural area, and was a farmer himself. On his journey to the US, he has worked as a chef for Saudi royal family and a taxi driver, among other jobs, but always, he has been a gardener. In 2005, he started NUBIA, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Nubian history and culture.
"Around the river, you know, when we grow up, we grow up with gardening. Every year, when the river Nile floods and comes back, we start growing food, and we don't water at all for the whole season. I started helping the family when I was maybe 3 years old, because there is no way to leave us at home. They took us when they go to the garden. Back home, I finished school in the beginning of '84, and I started growing fava beans and onion and wheat the first year. When I started, I started just to have a big garden by myself. I had 5 acres for myself.
I am farmer from back in Sudan, but when I came here and I tried to start to gardening, I found that there is a huge gap between what we are doing back home and here, so I had to find some ways to learn something about gardening here. I never grew any food in a small space. I never grew in beds, even inside houses. We don't do that. The insects, the fertilizers, the compost, all this is new for me. so I had to study and know about everything."
"We started NUBIA while I was driving a taxi, in 2005. We started first with a youth program. When we came here, my kids, no one spoke English, but very quickly, they catch on to English and forget our native language. So I said, ok, we will start an organization, and this will be the first goal, to do a program for them.
We needed a space, but I had a small budget. At that time, we had only my kids and my friends kids, like, 7, 8 kids. My daughter asked me, why we don't check in Charlestown? She said, 'let's go and see.' I met someone working for the Kennedy Center, and when I explained to him, he said, what do you think about this hall? I said, 'this will be very good, good enough.' Very quickly, I think in two weeks or three weeks, the number went to 30 kids. There was no way to continue there, so we had to find another space. We went to Charlestown Community Center. They gave us two classes. We said 'ok, that is good.' But we found the number was still going up, so the two classes was not enough. We went to another community center, they gave us one level, 3 classes. So we got the kids, we got the families coming everyday.
At that time, the Charlestown community garden was all Chinese and Asian ladies, and one sick white man originally from Germany. Every day he was telling me, 'oh, the doctors told me I'm going to die in one week.' This continued 3 or 4 years. Every time he needs help, I go and help him in the garden, because he's sick. One day he told me, 'Sayed, you are doing good, why don't you come and have a space here?' I said, 'this would be good, but there is no empty space.'
One of my friends connected me with a gardening for refugees organization in Mattapan.They had $800,000 for 3 years. So that was the beginning of starting gardening programs. We got permission to build as much as we want from the empty spaces in Charlestown.
I went to Home Depot, and we got the cheapest wood. I didn't know that some wood is not good for raised beds. I got enough wood for 6 beds. I started to ask families to come garden in the beds. I got 3 families, but I still had 2 beds without gardeners. So I thought, why don't we leave two open for the kids, and the produce can go to the families? After we started growing food, a lady came to me and said, 'do you know, Sayed, this wood is not good for the soil?' I said, 'why, what's the problem?' She said, 'it's going to poison the soil within five years.' I said, 'ok, 5 years, we have time!
We had funds to build 30 more beds. There were 8 families from Somalia, and 17 beds for gardeners from my community, and 5 for the Charlestown community."
The next season, Sayed moved to another empty space in Dorchester. They built 16 beds and donated over 2000 lbs of produce from that garden.
That same season, he planted in three beds in the Dudley Street Neighborhood greenhouse
That next season, he built 17 more beds at the Dimock Center.
In 2010, Sayed got permission to build 6 beds at the Dimock Center in Roxbury. Along with those beds, he grew food in over 200 plastic buckets, in order to show people that anyone can grow food in a plastic bucket, on the porch, behind the house, with limited space.
After recieving recognition for his gardening programs, a man at Sayed's mosque approached him. He asked me, 'are you a gardener?' Could you do anything here? This land will not be used for at least 4 years.' Sayed built ten beds there. The food from the garden is donated to the mosque.
This year, he built another 12 beds in that space.